Viewers of this
week's U.S. Women's Open will be impressed by the 18th hole, which rises like
an exclamation point toward the Newport Country Club's landmark yellow
clubhouse. A stout, 448-yard par-4 with a sandy maw bisecting the fairway and a
green perched on the edge of the hill, the hole will punctuate the finale with
But the ascent up
the finishing fairway won't be a climb up Newport's number 18. The USGA has
reversed the routing, so the hike's actually up number 9. I should know its
number. The hole certainly has mine.
I admit to loving
this hole shamelessly and have since the day we met, in the early 1990s,
shortly after I fell for a woman whose mother went into labor with her while
scaling its slope. Across the next decade the relationship between me and
number 9 only grew deeper.
regularly with my better half's uncle--a tall, courtly man who had been
navigating its privileged sward for 60-plus years (14 as club president)--I was
awed by his command of every hump and bump. Members' bounces? Uncle Guy's were
mystical. When he brandished his ancient Bulls Eye putter, the rub of the green
rarely rubbed him the wrong way. The course captivated him, every hole a
narrative layered in lore he adored passing on. And number 9 was where the plot
Like the time he
pointed to a distant cottage and said, "Aim for Jackie's window." For
it was the former First Lady's childhood bedroom at Hammersmith Farm that
marked the ideal driving line. There was also his revelation that the forest
bedeviling me to the right of the fairway was planted the summer he turned six;
its purpose was to deter Newport's pre-jet-set crowd from turning the fairways
measured his golfing life against this hole. Approaching 80, he resigned
himself to negotiating its cross bunker in two. Yet he wasn't too old (or
courtly) to squeal when I yipped an unconceded gimme for par. Despite my
admiration, my ongoing struggle with the hole became a story. After a match, no
one asked who had won, only how I had butchered number 9 this time.
In August 2004
Uncle Guy, sapped by chemotherapy, rallied for a daily nine when his niece and
I visited. During our last match--the final round of his life--he curled in a
snake on number 9, then handed me his Bulls Eye. I drained a 12-footer. I'm not
sure which of us was more stunned. "A par," he said at last, nodding.
"I've seen everything. I can go."
He did, three
months later. On my first round at Newport last summer, I carried his Bulls
Eye, using it only once, on the 9th, to convert a six-footer for par. The club
has hung in my office ever since, but I'm bringing the Bulls Eye to the Open,
ladies, and it's available for use on No. 9. We'll be easy to find. Just aim
for Jackie's window.
GOLF PLUS will
next appear in the July 18 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.